I know blue. Thick, smudged blue, like ink oozing from the spine of a broken pen. Like a vat of indigo, tipped, sloshing, splashing, running in fast rivulets then sighing into dry earth. Like the atmosphere at midnight, swelling to squeeze out even the tiniest prick of light from the stars. Blue I know.
My grief is gray.
All the color, even blue, has drained away. I feel like a faded photo in which my features are unclear, my face in shadow, hardly identifiable. I am without the warmth of sepia. Without even the sharp, clear edges of black or white. I feel dull. Blurred. My grief is a color without a name.
Having known blue—having held my breath, expecting the wash of it in the wake of loss—this gray comes as a surprise. But perhaps it shouldn’t. There is a distinction between grief and depression—an important one.
Grief has the arguable blessing of justification. It has a reason: It arrives with or anticipates a deep loss—of someone or something beloved, of a valued way of life. In this context, grief is accepted, expected, even encouraged. Tissues are offered. And this salve: You’ll get through this. It will take time, but this will pass.
But true, clinical depression often has neither reason nor the promise of relief. Yes, certain kinds of depression can surface as a result of difficult life situations. It’s acceptable then: Of course you’re down, baby. Who wouldn’t be, in your circumstances?
But sometimes it arrives like a guest with no luggage and no way home. When it comes without an apparent reason—with nothing attached—it can be difficult to accept. It can be especially hard among people who seem to “have it all” or “have it made” but who still can’t shake their sense of despair. Mental-health advocate Terrie Williams says the folks who are most “well off” are the ones who are the most shocked by their own depression. Their blues can be further thickened by guilt and anxiety, and by the lack of understanding from the people who would otherwise offer support.
The two, depression and grief, can blur together. Grief can harden to hopelessness that won’t lift or turn. But one is not necessarily the other. Fortunately, the wise ones and the experts know the difference. It is up to us to turn to them—groping in the dark, pressing through the fog if we must—for help toward healing. It is the wise ones—or we, ourselves, clinging to our own frail wisdom—who remind us to stand upright until our color returns.
For more about grief and grieving, visit the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation website.
In honor and memory of Frank Jeffries, Jr.
May 21, 1927~ December 26, 2010.